How the people of Zimbabwe were sidelined, yet again

Political change came to Zimbabwe, but once again its people were not consulted.

People queue to draw money outside a bank in Harare
People queue to draw money outside a bank in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare on November 15,2017 [Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo]

It did not have to come to this. Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party nursed its factional politics to the point of brinkmanship and translated its internal crisis into what is now a national one. It resulted in forced political change in which the Zimbabwean people did not participate yet again.

There were many warning signs that began in earnest with debates over succession within Zanu-PF. It didn’t end with just talking. The first female vice president in Zimbabwe’s history, Joice Mujuru was unceremoniously removed from her post at the instigation of the First Lady Grace Mugabe in 2014. The accusation she faced was that she sought to replace Zimbabwe’s long-serving ruler, President Robert Mugabe.

Fast forward to 2017 and again a stridently ambitious Grace Mugabe sought a repeat of her actions, this time leading the charge against vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. She succeeded for all of one week. Mnangagwa was verbally humiliated in public for having exactly the same intentions as his predecessor of removing her husband from political office.

Within a week and in response to what he called the disrespect to those who fought in the country’s liberation struggle, the Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), general Constantine Chiwenga, threatened to intervene. Very few Zimbabweans believed it remotely possible, at least not while President Mugabe was in charge.

With hindsight, it turns out Mugabe was no longer in charge of the army when on November 15 the military announced that it “intervened” to deal with what it called “criminal” elements that were undermining the “Commander in chief of the ZDF”. All the while the army was controlling access to key government buildings and denying that their actions are tantamount to a military takeover. 

There appears to be a public acceptance of a political reality that many Zimbabweans never thought or felt that they had democratic power to determine or control.


In the aftermath of this unprecedented military intervention, the streets of Harare are not empty, but there are not as many people nor informal street vendors plying their trade into the late hours of the night. Nor are the conversations about politics as loud or as raucous as usual. 

In other major cities, including Bulawayo, the second largest, the streets have remained relatively calm. 

But the metaphoric streets of social media have been very busy. Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter (in the order of their popular use by ordinary Zimbabweans) have been laced with humour, trepidation and in part muted celebration. 

Some of the dominant debates are about what political change means and how the actions of the military could lead to a change of political leadership from Mugabe to Mnangagwa. Or whether the role of the military should be applauded or condemned. 


Either way, there appears to be a public acceptance of a political reality that many Zimbabweans never thought or felt that they had democratic power to determine or control. 

Therein lies the rub. A lot of Zimbabweans are watching events with a curiosity that belies their preference for (any) political change, and with very limited regard for how it occurs or its eventual meaning. 

This is a key issue that Zimbabweans are not debating vis-a-vis the meaning of the new direct role of the army in being a key determinant of political change. 

For many Zimbabweans, the familiar route out of this political/military impasse would be the intervention of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Expectedly the regional body has already seized the matter into its own hands and judging by the previous time it had to intervene, it may consider the option of an inclusive government to resolve the political impasse again.

What is, however, apparent is that the primary solution had initially resided within the ruling Zanu-PF party, its current leader Mugabe and his belligerent and ambitious deputy Mnangagwa. The latter was the one who had announced that he will return to lead Zimbabwe after he was fired. 


His key allies in the ZDF as well as those leading the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNWLVA), have taken centre stage in making this a now increasing possibility. Yet they have been gone to great lengths to explain that their actions and statements are not tantamount to a military takeover.

The ZNLWVA has already announced that it is seeking the recall of President Mugabe from the Zanu-PF’s leadership. This once again confirms the fact that the current political crisis in the country has its origins in the succession politics of the ruling party, which regrettably have spilled over into the national domain. 

So while the people of Zimbabwe always expected better from their leadership, they now have to be content with a precarious political reality that requires, once again, external regional mediation. They will accept it not only for lack of an option but also for lack of their own capacity to democratically bring the ruling party to account for the current national crisis. 

The primary challenge for those that are now in charge of the transition processes as it occurs is how they will arrive at new methods to ensure that this does not happen again – either in the country or in the region. 

What is significant however is that as the current Zimbabwean crisis, first in the ruling party and more importantly in the country, pans out, the people of Zimbabwe remain on the terraces – watching and waiting. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.